McConnell pushes back at Trump on flag-burning comments

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) is taking issue with President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE's suggestion that flag burners go to jail or lose their citizenship.

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"The Supreme Court has held that that activity is a protected First Amendment right," McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. "In this country, we have a long history of protecting unpleasant speech."

McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, added that he supports the Supreme Court's 1989 decision in Texas v. Johnson that ruled flag burning to be free speech.

The Kentucky Republican defended flag burning in a 2006 op-ed.

"No act of speech is so obnoxious that it merits tampering with our First Amendment. Our Constitution, and our country, is stronger than that," he wrote at the time. "Ultimately, people like that pose little harm to our country. But tinkering with our First Amendment might."

He also voted against a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.

The 2006 push to amend the Constitution fell one vote short of the 67-vote threshold needed to clear the Senate. McConnell was one of three Republicans who voted against the amendment, which would amend the constitution to prohibit flag burning. 

Then-GOP Sens. Lincoln Chaffee (R.I.) and Robert Bennett (Utah) also voted against the amendment. 

Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill Kamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' Obama calls filibuster 'Jim Crow relic,' backs new Voting Rights Act bill MORE (D-Nev.) was one of more than a dozen Senate Democrats who supported the failed amendment in 2006.

Reid said Tuesday that he doesn't support striking individuals who burn the flag of their citizenship, but didn't say if he still supports the amendment. 

"Let me remind you of this: We know that Trump tweeted that he feels that someone who burns the flag should lose their citizenship. I don't agree with him," he told reporters. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSeveral GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Graham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE (R-S.C.), who voted for the 2006 amendment, told reporters Tuesday that he still supports criminalizing flag burning but does not back Trump's push to strip individuals of their citizenship. 

This story was updated at 3:54 p.m.